These Prisoning Hills by Christopher Rowe is an atmospheric novella set in a post-apocalyptic Kentucky. The United States, or at least some of the Southern states, have been devastated by a war with an AI, who created the Voluntary State of Tennessee and destroyed swathes of the environment with weird composite creatures and colossal weapons with human cores. The humans fought back with their own cyborgian soldiers. Meanwhile, the Appalachians were stripped of their natural resources and barely retain sovereignty and self-sufficiency due to loss of population. Artificial beings, whom I pictured as brightly colored Lego-people, take care of mundane tasks such as harvesting and bus driving because there aren’t enough remaining humans to do so. The plot is fairly simple: there’s something valuable in the AI’s territory, a squad of federal soldiers went to get it, and since they didn’t come back, more soldiers have arrived to attempt a rescue. Marcia, the Kentuckian point of view character, is sixty-one, divorced, and tired, but she ends up guiding the rescue mission as well as reflecting on her memories of the original war. The whole story felt both familiar and innovative, and was absolutely jam-packed with cool ideas. Recommended.
Thornfruit by Felicia Davin is first in The Gardener’s Hand series. It’s secondary world fantasy set on a tide-locked world. In some countries, psychic/magical abilities are accepted, in others they’re denied, and in another, they’re forbidden. Evreyet Umarsad, a bullied tomboy who grows up to be competent, compassionate, and trained by her father to use a fighting staff, first encounters tiny, ragged Alizhan when they are both children. Raised by one of the elites of their town, Alizhan is able to read minds, though she is easily overwhelmed by too many people, and cannot distinguish people’s physical features. They’re young adults before Ev learns Alizhan’s name, and Alizhan reveals she knows Ev is attracted to her. Together, they fight crime! Or, well, figure out a mystery surrounding Alizhan’s guardian and mentor, make new friends, uncover conspiracies, and head off on a ship together for the next book in the trilogy.
Nightvine by Felicia Davin is second in The Gardener’s Hand trilogy and has a darker tone, literally as well as figuratively, because Alizhan and Ev, who’ve finally accepted they’re in love, along with new gender fluid friend Thiyo, from the mysterious Islands, travel to the Night side of their tide-locked planet as they try to unlock their enemy’s secrets in a place where there’s little privacy and an unsafe environment. They become very close to Thiyo. Heads up that this one ends in a terrifying cliffhanger.
Shadebloom by Felicia Davin is third in The Gardener’s Hand trilogy. I found it more stressful than the others because the trio of characters are separated for large segments of time, and Thiyo is dealing with some very upsetting issues for the whole first section. Also there are some scary natural disasters that aren’t entirely natural. But the three of them finally start to resolve their mutual attraction, and after many setbacks, achieve victory over their enemy and end up happy together. It’s a page-turner! And very satisfying in the end.
The School at the Chalet by Elinor M. Brent-Dyer is first in a long series of British girls’ school stories set in the Tyrol in Austria; the Chalet School is explicitly British, in that the Austrian students strive to follow the traditions of English school stories such as playing pranks, celebrating the headmistress’s birthday, and playing cricket. Originally published in 1925, there’s not really any mention of World War One, but a fair amount of colonialism in India plays into the story indirectly. The story begins with the twins Dick and Madge, in their early twenties, trying to figure out how to survive economically in England sans parents or guardian, while bringing up their much-younger sister Josephine, called Joey, whose health is poor. They own their house and furniture, and have a small income from investment. Dick is in the Army, and will shortly return to India. Madge decides to open a school as living expenses in Austria are much cheaper, and they have visited a likely place. The rest of the story primarily focuses on Joey and the other students. Grizel and Juliet cause the most plot conflict, both due to absent parents; Grizel was dumped on her grandmother after her mother’s death, then reunited with her father after his second marriage…without telling the new wife he had a daughter, so it did not play out well. Juliet is raised by feckless parents in India, and is taught that she should look down on the “natives,” which causes her to act out against the non-English speakers. Both of these characters end up having a nasty shock and being nicer people afterwards. The students’ adventures are fun and I enjoyed both plot and characterization, even though I was mainly reading it for 1920s flavor.
My July #TBRChallenge book was A Half-Built Garden by Ruthanna Emrys.
360-degree feedback by bysine is an amazing Marvel Cinematic Universe story from the point of view of Wong, Sorcerer Supreme. It includes characters from the Dr. Strange movies, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, the She Hulk tv series, and The Falcon and The Winter Soldier tv series in glorious array, all with delightful dialogue. While trying to recover the damange done to Kamar-Taj by the Scarlet Witch, Wong is being haunted by the ghost of Xu Wenwu (Shang-Chi’s dad, the formerly immortal Ten Rings warlord), who has sarcastic opinions on everything he does. Wong holds his own, of course. There’s also a lovely portrayal of Mordo and his past with Wong, and a way their friendship can continue. Highly recommended. It’s great.
Absurdist Viral Posts by canistakahari are a series of three ficlets about Bucky Barnes and Steve Rogers that are…well…absurdist. And fun. The dialogue and characterization are great. They are all based on “a viral post or meme.” The last one taught me an interesting historical fact. And all three made me laugh.
some things you just can’t speak about (wherever they come from, they’ll never run out) by raven (singlecrow) is a Deep Space Nine/M.A.S.H. fusion, with characters from the sitcom running a hospital ship during the Dominion War, near the Bajoran wormhole; though we see the station, the DS9 characters from the show are not shown (if they exist in this AU). This was great. It’s from BJ Hunnicutt’s point of view starting from when he’s essentially drafted, only to arrive while the ship’s under attack. Colonel Potter is a woman and Hawkeye Pierce is non-binary and half-Betazoid, both of which turned out really great. Did I mention this story was great? Well, it is.